Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 10, 2018)
A spinoff from the 2014 movie of the same title, the Netflix series Dear White People focuses on the 21st century college experience from an African-American perspective. This two-DVD set includes all 10 of Season One’s episodes – the plot synopses come from the package’s liner notes.
Chapter I: “As college radio host Samantha White (Logan Browning) leads the outcry over a blackface party thrown by a campus fraternity, a revelation about her love life puts her in an awkward spot.”
Though a typical pilot episode devotes most of its time to exposition, “Chapter I” semi-assumes knowledge of the situations already. That said, it tosses out enough introductory info to ensure those who didn’t see the film will get the gist.
And it does well in that regard. “Chapter I” conveys the series’ tone in a positive way and gives us enough material related to its setting and characters to make it a good opener.
Chapter II: “Buoyed by his front-page story on the blackface party, shy reporter Lionel (DeRon Horton) begins to come out of his shell and embrace his true identity.”
Oddly, “II” feels more expository than “I”, perhaps because it focuses so closely on Lionel. It gives him a lot of room to grow and works fairly well in that regard, but it lacks the sizzle of the first episode.
Chapter III: “At his father’s (Obba Babatundé) behest, golden boy Troy (Brandon Bell) schmoozes his way around campus while campaigning for student body president – but his smile hides nagging doubts.”
Going into the series, I assumed it’d revolve largely around Sam, with the others as supporting roles. Perhaps it’ll eventually evolve in that direction, but so far, each episode has concentrated on a different character, all while it pursues an overall narrative.
That approach should flop, and I admit it feels a bit contrived at times. Nonetheless, it creates a clever way to advance the series’ general themes and plot, and “III” becomes a pretty effective continuation.
Chapter IV: “As Coco (Antoinette Robertson) gears up for an exclusive soiree, a fight with Sam stirs up memories of their friendship and the differences that drove them apart.”
While the first three chapters focused on the “present”, “IV” mostly goes into flashback mode, and that becomes a compelling way to flesh out the characters. Coco could easily fall into cliché territory, but “IV” manages to develop her into something more than that.
Chapter V: “Friends drag Reggie (Marque Richardson) out on the town to stop him from brooding over the revolution and Sam’s new beau (John Patrick Amedori) but the night takes a harrowing turn.”
On one hand, the episode’s decision to go down the “police brutality” route feels a little forced. On the other, the episode paints this event in a way that adds to its impact. I’ll favor the latter side of the show to view this as another positive progression.
Chapter VI: “Shell-shocked, Sam and company plan a protest against the campus police, while Reggie finds his own way to process the ordeal.”
After five character-specific episodes, “VI” spreads a broader net to follow the impact of the last show’s events. Though it traces a somewhat predictable path at times, it still manages a good exploration, especially because it incorporates enough humor to make the drama palatable.
Chapter VII: “Picking up on the chemistry between Sam and Reggie, Gabe obsesses over the state of his relationship and makes a startling confession to Joelle (Ashley Blaine Featherson).”
Expect a fairly “soap opera” feel to “VII”, as it concentrates on the Gabe/Sam dynamic. We get enough funny moments to allow the episode to entertain, but the melodrama becomes a little heavy.
Chapter VIII: “To show how pervasive Winchester’s race problems are, Lionel sets out to write a feature on Troy and makes some unexpected discoveries.”
“VIII” focuses on different characters and situations but echoes the semi-sappy orientation of “VII”. Like the prior show, it still musters enough comedy to amuse, but I’m less than excited about the fairly predictable look at the participants.
Chapter IX: “Coco jumps at the chance to join Troy at a party for wealthy donors but the evening leaves her questioning his priorities.”
With “IX”, we get a better balance of story elements. While the show still engages in some of the romantic subplots that turned me off, it compensates with a stronger narrative emphasis, factors that make it a good lead-in to the season finale.
Chapter X: “With tensions running high before the town hall, Sam tries to patch up her relationship, Coco steals Troy’s thunder, and Lionel makes a bold move.”
Season One concludes on a positive note, as “X” wraps up issues in a compelling manner. Inevitably, a smidgen of soap opera interferes, but the episode stays on target most of the time, and it points us toward Season Two in a positive way.